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Q&A: Explosions in the Sky

By Staff | May 30, 2012

Explosions in the Sky has been kicking around for the better part of a decade and making a name for themselves by playing guitar-heavy instrumental music. Yes, sans vocals. And they kick ass.

The Austin-based band has had their music featured in commercials, films and most notably the movie and TV series “Friday Night Lights.”

The band, made up of out-of-this-world guitarists Munaf Rayani, Mark Smith and Michael James and drummer Chris Hrasky, will be making their first trip to the Mountain State when they play 123 Pleasant St. in Morgantown on June 25.

Smith took some time recently to answer some questions exclusively for Graffiti readers.

Graffiti: First question and probably most annoying so we’ll hurry and get it out of the way: Explosions in the Sky received a little bit of flack post-9/11, due in part to the album art on “Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever.” I believe the words, “this plane will crash tomorrow,” were supposedly included in the art and the album was released just before the attacks. How much of that is true; how weird was it to be in the spotlight during that period; and how much does it piss you off that people still ask about it?

Smith: The thing that started spreading was that our album came out on September 10, 2001, and so of course if that were true then the words “this plane will crash tomorrow” would be pretty haunting. But the album had come out the week before that, and I think any reasonable person could guess that to call those words prophetic or anything is a stretch, to put it mildly. You know how everyone goes through that phase where they are drawn to the dark and grim and deathly – we were in that phase when we wrote that album. “This plane will crash tomorrow” was our way of saying that if any good is occurring right now then it will certainly crash down. Fatalism and entropy. The controversy around it seems pretty silly now, so we can just shrug it off, but I definitely remember us being pretty pissed/baffled that some college stations immediately following 9/11 were deciding to not play our music because our band name (and I guess the album art) brought to mind the tragedy.

Graffiti: Explosions in the Sky is a quartet out of Austin, “Friday Night Lights” was a show set in Odessa, Texas — and it had some crazy fierce fans. Does the band get a lot of attention for being identified with that show because of the inclusion of random tracks throughout the series? How do you get approached to do something like that or to have your music included in films, like the recent Reese Witherspoon flick, “This Means War”? Is the band cool with it?

Smith: It can be really hard to make a decision whether to write music for a movie or have your music in something–you have to just kind of guess, in a sense. For example, we hear that a movie like “This Means War” wants to use our music, but we don’t get a script or see sample footage or anything. They just tell us who is making the movie and who is in it. With “Friday Night Lights,” we had no idea it would turn out to be so beloved and mean so much to so many people (particularly the TV show). It was extremely flattering to be asked, and most of us had read the book, because three of us are actually from the area in West Texas where the book and film are set. But again, it’s hard to make that decision beforehand. We had only been a band for four or five years when we were asked to do the movie, and you think things like “Is this just going to be a teenage football movie, do we really want to be a part of this, are people just going to think of us as that football band?” Ultimately I am extremely glad that we made the decision to do it, because it turned out so well, and because our music reached so many people through it that would not have heard us otherwise.

Graffiti: Fans of EITS have commented that your music makes them feel happy, gets them through rough times. Yet, the arrangements seem to dwell on the melancholy – reminiscent of The Cure, if you’ll allow this former 80s goth chick to make an observation. Is this just a matter of interpretation? Is there a certain emotion that the band expects the listener to feel from certain songs? And that poses another question: does the band write for itself or for the listener, audience and fans?

Smith: Yeah, that’s pretty much my favorite thing about hearing reactions. We write the music that we personally respond to. It has to elicit something from each of us. A strong specific emotion, a general sense of well-being, a memory… it of course is different for each of us. And then it turns out to be so different for different listeners – one song will sound so sad to one person but make another person so happy; one song will make some people feel calm and others all amped up. I just love the ambiguity of instrumental music. It’s pretty cool to hear a comparison to The Cure, we don’t hear that very often but it’s pretty dead-on. Most of us loved them and I’ve always thought a handful of our guitar lines and tones can be traced pretty directly to “Disintegration.”

Graffiti: So you guys will be coming to 123 Pleasant St. at the end of this month … How often do you guys get to West Virginia and, for those who are curious but don’t know, how would you describe an EITS live show?

Smith: We have gotten to West Virginia exactly zero times in our career, and we are finally rectifying the matter. I’ve always had trouble when asked how to describe our live show because I’ve never seen it. It’s loud…. We tie all the songs together so it feels like it’s one long piece… There’s energy… Sometimes people yell things out…. Sometimes people close their eyes… Sometimes we close our eyes… It’s fun.